Meet Nzambi Matee: The Kenyan Woman Turning Plastic Wastes Into Bricks ‘Seven Times’ Stronger Than Concrete Bricks

A 29-year-old Kenyan woman named Nzambi Matee is turning tons of plastic waste trash generated in Kenya into super durable, lightweight bricks that are five to seven times stronger than concrete bricks. Nzambi Matee is a Kenyan engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of Gjenge Makers, a company that uses the plastic wastes of commercial facilities to create bricks that can withstand twice the weight threshold of conventional concrete bricks.

Every day, at their factory in Nairobi, Gjenge Makers churn out 1,500 bricks made from plastic trash that otherwise would be dumped in the city’s overflowing garbage heaps.

The world produces 381 million tonnes of plastic waste yearly – this is set to double by 2034. 50% of this is single-use plastic & only 9% has ever been recycled. In Africa, over 125 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated every year since 2012, which is expected to double by 2025. Waste collection in most African countries is inadequate, thus, making it difficult for city councils to tackle waste pollution. According to a report, on average, 13% of the municipal solid waste generated in Africa is plastic. According to the Africa Waste Management Outlook in 2018, An estimated 70–80% of the municipal solid waste generated in Africa is recyclable, yet only 4% of it is currently recycled.

Nzambi Matee told reporters she was ”tired of being on the sidelines” and she had wanted to create something that would help mitigate the problem of plastic waste in Kenya. Before she ventured into recycling plastic wastes, Nzambi Matee worked as an engineer in Kenya’s oil industry. In 2017, Matee quit her job to focus on solving global climate issues that are threatening our existence – there she started making pavers, a combination of plastic and sand.

Kenyan engineer and inventor Nzambi Matee moulds a sludge made from shredded

She began the production of these bricks in her mother’s backyard and the first brick she ever produced took her a whole nine months of work and even more before getting a partner to help in building the machines needed for the production of the bricks. After several ups and downs, Nzambi Matee founded her company, Ngeje Makers, where she produces these plastic bricks in masses.

Since establishing her own recycling company, Gjenge Makers, Nzambi Matee has already recycled 20 metric tons of plastic into paving bricks that come in different shapes and colours and created 120 job opportunities for garbage collectors, and young people in Nairobi. The bricks, Gjenge bricks as she called them, are one of the cheapest in the market. Her company, Gjenge Makers Factory produces up to 1,500 bricks a day. The eco-friendly bricks are of different sizes and can be used in the construction of household compounds, commercial premises and even for road constructions.

Gjenge bricks in a compound in Kenya

I wanted to use my education in applied physics and materials engineering to do something about the problem of plastic waste pollution. But I was very clear that the solution had to be practical (living in Kenya practicality is everything), sustainable and affordable. The best way to do this was by channeling the waste into the construction/building space and finding the most efficient and affordable material to build homes

Nzambi Matee

Getting started, as many would say, is the toughest of any journey. For Matee, it was difficult at the starting stage to make their first brick out of plastic waste.

We had to figure out how to make the first brick to be able to show people what we were talking about. It was not the best brick but it proved our concept. Once we made the first one we went around showing and talking to people about setting up the machinery to make these bricks. There were countless rejections. People wouldn’t even listen to the idea before rejecting it. But I stuck to the concept. I knew I just needed one person to believe in the idea,

Nzambi Matee on her first brick made from plastic waste

In recognition of her work, in 2020, Nzambi Matee was recognised as the Young Champion of the Earth, the United Nation’s highest environmental Honour.

Of course, this is just the beginning for Matee, because in her own words she aims to scale up for higher daily production and also to expand her project to other parts of Africa, she also aims to upgrade her work by producing bricks for the actual building.

From quitting a job to becoming the Young Champion of the earth, people like Nzambi Matee are the one who gives us hope for a better and healthier planet in the future.

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